Bacterial Cell Wall

The success of antibacterial agents owes much to the fact that they can act selectively against bacterial cells rather than animal cells. This is largely because bacterial and animal cells differ both in their structure and in their biosynthetic pathways. Let us consider some of the differences between the bacterial cell (defined as prokaryotic ) and the animal cell (defined as eukaryotic ).

Bacterial Cell Wall

Differences between bacterial and animal cells:

• the bacterial cell does not have a defined nucleus, whereas the animal cell does.

• animal cells contain a variety of structures called organelles (mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, etc.), whereas the bacterial cell is relatively simple.

• the biochemistry of a bacterial cell differs significantly from that of an animal cell. For example, bacteria may have to synthesize essential vitamins which animal cells can acquire intact from food. The bacterial cells must have the enzymes to catalyse these reactions. Animal cells do not, because the reactions are not required;

• the bacterial cell has a cell membrane and a cell wall, whereas the animal cell has only a cell membrane. The cell wall is crucial to the bacterial cell’s survival. Bacteria have to survive a wide range of environments and osmotic pressures, whereas animal cells do not. If a bacterial cell lacking a cell wall was placed in an aqueous environment containing a low concentration of salts, water would freely enter the cell as a result of osmotic pressure. This would cause the cell to swell and eventually burst. The scientific term for this is lysis . Th e cell wall does not stop water flowing into the cell directly, but it does prevent the cell from swelling and so indirectly prevents water entering the cell. Bacteria can be characterized by a staining technique which allows them to be defined as Gram-positive or Gram-negative. Bacteria with a thick cell wall (20–40 nm) are stained purple and defined as Gram-positive. Bacteria with a thin cell wall (2–7 nm) are stained pink and are defined as Gram-negative. Although Gram-negative bacteria have a thin cell wall, they have an additional outer membrane not present in Gram-positive bacteria. This outer membrane is made up of lipopolysaccharides—similar in character to the cell membrane. These differences in cell walls and membranes have important consequences for the different vulnerabilities of Gram-positive and Gramnegative bacteria to antibacterial drugs.